English Literature

By wit of woman by Arthur W. Marchmont

By wit of woman by Arthur W. Marchmont.jpg

CHAPTER I

FROM BEYOND THE PALE

“To John P. Gilmore, Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S.A.

“MY DEAR BROTHER-IN-LAW,—For years you have believed me dead, and I have made no effort to disturb that belief.

“I am dying now, alone in Paris, far from my beloved country; unjustly degraded, dishonoured and defamed. This letter and its enclosure will not be despatched until the grave has closed over me.

“To you I owe a debt of deep gratitude. You have taken and cared for my darling child, Christabel; you have stood between her and the world, and have spared her from the knowledge and burden of her father’s unmerited shame. You can yet do something more—give her your name, so that mine with its disgrace may be forgotten; unless—it is a wild thought that has come to me in my last hours, the offspring of my hopeless melancholy—unless she should ever prove to have the strength, the courage, the wit and the will to essay that which I have endeavoured fruitlessly—the clearance of my name and honour.

“When ruin first fell upon me, I made a vow never to reveal myself to her until I had cleared my name and hers from the stain of this disgrace. I have kept the vow—God knows at what sorrow to myself and against what temptation in these last lonely years—and shall keep it now to the end.

“The issue I leave to you. If you deem it best, let her continue to believe that I died years ago. If otherwise, give her the enclosed paper—the story of my cruel wrong—and tell her that during the last years of my life my thoughts were all of her, that my heart yearned for her, and that my last conscious breath will be spent in uttering her name and blessing her.

“Such relics of my once great fortune as I have, I am sending to you for my Christabel.

“Adieu.
“ERNST VON DRESCHLER, COUNT MELNIK.”

“To my Daughter, Christabel von Dreschler.

“MY DEAREST CHILD,—If you are ever to read these lines it will be because your uncle believes you are fitted to take up the task of clearing our name, from the stain of crime which the villainy of others has put upon it. But whether you will make the effort must be decided finally by yourself alone. For two years I have tried, with such strength as was left to me by those who did me this foul wrong, and I have failed. Were you a son, I should lay this task upon you as a solemn charge; but you are only a girl, and left in your hands, it would be all but hopeless, because of both its difficulty and probable danger. I leave you free to decide: for the reason that if you have not the personal capacity to make the decision, you will not have in you the power to succeed. One thing only I enjoin upon you. If you cannot clear my name, do not bear it.

“I have not strength to write out in full all the details of the matter, but I give you the main outline here and send in this packet many memoranda which I have made from time to time. These will give you much that you need.

“At the time of your mother’s death and your leaving Hungary for the United States I was, as you may remember, a colonel in the Austro-Hungarian army, in possession of my title and estates, and in favour with one of the two most powerful of all the great Slav nobles, Ladislas, Duke of Kremnitz. I continued, as I believed, to enjoy his confidence for two years longer, up to the last, indeed. He was one of the leaders of the Patriots—the great patriotic movement which you will find described in the papers I send you—the other being the Hungarian magnate, Duke Alexinatz of Waitzen. Two of my friends, whose names you must remember, were Major Katona, my intimate associate, and Colonel von Erlanger, whom I knew less well.

“If the Patriots were successful, the Hungarian Throne was to be filled by Duke Alexinatz with reversion to his only son, Count Stephen; and it is necessary for you to understand that this arrangement was expressly made by Duke Ladislas himself.

“So matters stood when, one day, some hot words passed between young Count Stephen and myself, and he insulted me grossly. Two days later, Major Katona came to my house at night in great agitation. He declared that the Count had sworn to shoot me, and that his father had espoused his side in the quarrel and threatened to have me imprisoned; and that Duke Ladislas, unwilling to quarrel with Duke Alexinatz, although taking my part in the affair, desired me to absent myself from Buda-Pesth until the storm had blown over. He pressed me to leave instantly; and, suspecting nothing, I yielded. I had scarcely left my house when the carriage was stopped, I was seized, gagged, and blindfolded, and driven for many hours in this condition, and then imprisoned. I believed that I was in the hands of the agents of Duke Alexinatz; and continued in this belief for six years, during the whole of which time I was kept a close prisoner.

“Then at length I escaped: my strength sapped, my mind impaired and my spirit broken by my captivity; and learned that I had been branded as a murderer with a price set on my head.

“On the night when I had left, the young Count Stephen had been found shot in my house; my flight was accepted as proof of my guilt, and, most infamous of all, a confession of having murdered him had been made public with my signature attached to it.

“That is the mystery, as it stands to-day. The God I am soon to meet face to face knows my heart and that I am innocent; but prove it I cannot. May He give you the strength and means denied to me to solve the mystery.

“With this awful shadow upon me, I could not seek you out, let my heart ache and stab as it would with longing for a sight of your face and a touch of your hand. I thank God I have still been man enough—feeble as my mind is after my imprisonment—to keep away from you.

“This sad story you will never know, unless your uncle deems it for the best.

“That God may keep you happy and bless you is the last prayer of your unhappy father,

“ERNST VON DRESCHLER.”

*****

My Uncle Gilmore had been dead three months, having left me his fortune and his name, when, in sorting his old papers to destroy them, I came upon these letters.

They were two years old; and it was evident that while my uncle had intentionally kept them from me, he had at the same time been unwilling to destroy them.

My poor, poor father!

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